Networking 101: Bring your darn business cards!

Laura FoleyWe designers are a funny bunch sometimes. Although many of us make a living creating marketing collateral for our clients, we sometimes do a pretty bad job of marketing ourselves. And at the last HOW Design Live, I saw a stunning example of shoot-yourself-in-the-foot non-marketing: designers with no business cards.Laura Foley Business card

I can’t imagine why anybody would attend a major industry event without business cards to distribute. Conferences represent a golden opportunity to meet potential clients and collaborators, and business cards provide the contact information these people need to follow up with you after the event is over.

Here are some fails from the conference and how they could’ve been handled better:

The forgetful networker

Me: It’s been great talking with you! I’d like to keep in touch, so could I please have your business card?

Other Guy: Oh, I left them back in the hotel room.

Really? Come on! You should always have a supply of business cards on hand, especially when you attend a conference. Go back to your hotel and get them!

Keeping business cards tucked away in multiple locations—pockets, purse, backpack, laptop case, messenger bag, etc.—ensures that you’re prepared for any chance business encounter. And that could happen anywhere, not just at a conference.

A friend of mine got a years-long freelance gig that turned into a full-time job because she started a conversation with another woman while they were both picking up their kids at day care. You can bet she had her business card on hand to give out!

Not enough cards

Me: Well, it’s a big conference and I’m sure we’d both like to meet as many people as possible. Could I have your business card so that we can continue this conversation later?

Other Guy: I ran out of cards yesterday.

When you attend a networking event you should bring loads more cards than you think you’ll need. A couple hundred should be enough! But what if you run out, should you just curse your bad luck? Of course not!

Usually, it’s not hard to find quick-print shops that are close to major metropolitan trade show venues. These places can set up and print business cards within hours. Often, there are business centers in hotels that can do the same thing.

Would you prefer a custom card? If you have a laptop with you, you can design a card and upload it to a print vendor’s website. At the very least you can design a handwritten card, have it photocopied, and cut the stinkin’ things up yourself!

You don’t deserve my card

Me: I really enjoyed learning more about you and what you do! May I please have your business card?

Other Guy: I only give my card to potential clients.

Maybe your “card” is made out of wood, metal, or mixed media and is expensive to produce so you only want to give them to hot prospects. That’s great. But what about the rest of the people you meet? Is it worth it to turn off potential collaborators or people who might refer you to others? Naturally, the answer is “no.”

The solution? Two sets of business cards: the custom ones and a set of regular paper ones. That way, you don’t alienate anybody by implying that they don’t rate one of your premium cards.

To sum up, you should treat every business meeting, trade show, or conference you attend as a potential networking opportunity. Always have business cards with you so that you can keep in touch with people who may end up helping you down the road. Business cards can be cheap, but the relationships they foster can be priceless!

For more networking tips, check out this recent blog post.

About Laura Foley

Laura Foley is a creative thinker and marketing expert who enables her clients to effectively communicate their messages. She specializes in Cheating Death by PowerPoint, transforming PowerPoint decks into effective marketing tools through workshops, consulting, and presentation design services. Learn more at, where you can find her Cheating Death by PowerPoint blog.

P.S. You can also meet Laura in person May 12-16 at HOW Design Live.